My next project is in the planning stages–it will be a book about the connections between early American poetry and Blues and/or Americana Roots music. I completed an intensive course on the Blues through the International Blues Scholars program at Delta State University in the summer of 2017. What an incredible experience! My knowledge in this area grew by leaps and bounds in just a couple of months. Since then, I have been writing in fits and starts in between teaching my many courses at UW Tacoma. Whew! But I have not given up on this particular project. Teaching literature and music has helped me to keep my focus on this project, for sure, but if you are a teacher, you know how difficult it is to carve out space for your own projects! I plan to complete this project in the next few years–that is how long it will take to pull everything together and begin to shape it all into a book. As I do research, I write notes to myself. It is my way of keeping track of what is going on in my over-full brain! My advice to myself and to other writers–Write Every Single Day. Don’t take a day off if you can help it–the gears get rusty and the cobwebs begin to take over!
The Evolutionary Power of Stories: Virginia Woolf and Literary Darwinism will be out in 2017. This is my first book and I couldn’t be more excited and pleased. On this website, I will provide a link to my book page on McFarland Publishing, so stay tuned!
In the meantime, I’ll tell you a bit about it.
This book began many years ago with my dissertation on Woolf’s novel, The Waves. My interest in her work has not wavered through these many years of academic study. About ten years ago, I team taught a course on the nature/nuture debate with Sam Parker, professor of anthropology and art history at the University of Washington, Tacoma. During the course of that quarter, I became fascinated by the ways in which the humanities and the sciences could interact to broaden our knowledge about who we are as humans. I began to read everything I could get my hands on regarding the way biology and culture are intertwined. In 2013, my interests in literature, culture in general, and evolutionary science began to come together. You may ask how Virginia Woolf works into this picture. Good question!
Virginia Woolf wrote stories that were anything but ordinary: she couldn’t help it–her life was one of extraordinary depth. Growing up in a household made of two families (her father had children by his first wife who died; he married Julia Stephen, also a widow, and had a second family), she had many advantages, but was also exposed to grief early in her life. Her mother, stepsister, brother, and father all died before she was in her twenties. She suffered from mental illness, and so had a unique turn of mind. In her sexual relationships, she was bisexual and so stood apart in that way from “mainstream” society. In these ways and more, Woolf was positioned to craft a writing career that revolutionized the art of Story.
When I thought of using her novels in my book, I realized that I had taken for granted the “human-ness” of these stories. The characters I had come to cherish–Jacob Flanders, Clarissa Dalloway, Lily Briscoe, for instance–may seem rather odd to those not familiar with Woolf. Part of my task in the book was to “humanize” their stories as I explained the power inherent in them. These stories reach deeply into the human psyche and in so doing, teach us something about ourselves: that our stories can help to heal each other (Jacob’s Room and To the Lighthouse); that they can help us to connect with each other (Mrs. Dalloway and Between the Acts); that they can help us to think more creatively about the way we want our world to be (Orlando and The Waves).
This book is thus the result of many years of reading, writing, and research. Along with many other scholars, I have become convinced that Story is not just window-dressing on the House that Humans have built, but is integral to the function of that House. As one writer has maintained, Story is in our DNA. It is so much a part of who we are that it is nearly impossible for us to think without it. Story enables us to connect with each other, to comfort one another in times of grief, and to create new ways of engaging in the world. I argue in my book that if we could harness the power of Story for good that we could change the world. If we could listen to the Story of the “other” we would quickly learn that “they” are actually “us.” Many, many people have already discovered this fact, while others have not opened their minds and hearts to this simple, yet revolutionary concept.
My goal in writing the book was to add my voice to the conversation in hopes that more people will be inspired to listen to the stories around them and to tell their own stories with confidence. Once the door is opened, the possibilities will be endless!
As Virginia Woolf said, “We are the words. We are the music. We are the thing itself.” We are all we’ve got. We must figure out how to make this work, or we perish.
Another saying comes to mind: If you want to travel fast, go alone. If you want to travel far, go together.
Since going the distance seems the best way to survive, I vote for traveling far.